I was on the phone with my dad a few months ago and he was talking about a presentation he had coming up for work. He asked for some pointers, and I joked around that as long as he didn’t read text directly off his slides, he would be fine. He was silent for a moment before revealing that he did, in fact, read off of the slides. Melodramatic groans followed as I lectured him on what a terrible presentation style that was. He laughed and said he would probably keep it that way…can’t teach an old dog new tricks and all those sorts of things.
We were both traveling for work this week and ended up in the same town. We met up for drinks and I asked him how all his training was going. He was visibly irritated and said he couldn’t believe some of these speakers: They presented about safety procedures and read whole paragraphs right off the slides! I asked him if he had learned his lesson, and if he had decided now that he wouldn’t do that from this point on. His response?
“No, I solved that problem. I’m just not doing presentations anymore.”
As much as I adore my father, you don’t have to solve the problem like he did. In Margaret Heffernan’s “3 Characteristics of Amazing Presentations” on the Inc. website, she lists some of her observations on what great presenters have in common. A notable one:
3. Enthusiasm isn’t everything.
I heard a number of very eager speakers whose content evaporated a few moments after they stopped talking. I even remember what they looked like and the fancy fonts in their slides, but not what they said. Information really does matter and however evangelical the delivery, substance beats style every time.
In the last few months, I’ve attended several presentations — good and bad, on various topics — and I agree with Heffernan. You can’t be all form and no function. But in my own experience (and granted, I’ve never physically attended a TED talk), you really shouldn’t be all function and no form, either. I have seen presentations done by experienced and knowledgeable people, respected in their field. The substance in their presentations was thick and full and necessary for anyone wanting to succeed in that field…except they couldn’t relay the substance to their listeners in more than one tone.
No one wants to listen to someone stand up and read off of a slide or a handout, especially when they don’t deviate from their written material and they don’t make it interesting. As Heffernan suggests, tell a story. Make a joke at your own expense. Pull out the icebreakers. Whatever you do, get your crowd engaged with you! The more you work on drawing them in, the more likely it is that the functional information in your presentation will stick with them for a very long time. I’m sure you remember the last time you had to sit through a presentation that was as interesting as watching paint dry on growing grass. Don’t be that presenter — nerves or not, opening with a joke will allow you to laugh as well, giving some much-needed relief to whatever anxiety you may have had. Telling a story allows your audience to relate to you and vice versa.
Information IS extremely important…but don’t take the information you are passionate about and make it boring for someone else. You don’t need flashy typeface, light shows or Screen Beans, but you do need to give them a reason to pay attention to your substance.
Tell us — what kind of things do you like to add to your presentation to jazz it up and make it interesting for your audience?